What you should know about: Textiles
GECA has recently released a new standard for Textiles and Leather, but what does it mean for a textile to be environmentally and socially preferable – as well as safer for your health?
Textile products can have negative impacts on the environment and human health. These can occur across the product’s life cycle. They may include the use of biocides in agricultural practices, substances used in manufacturing which can harm waterways, hazardous materials which cause skin irritation during wear, or poor working conditions for textile manufacturers.
Pesticides are often applied to crops such as cotton – or even used on sheep for their wool. The run off from pesticides can contaminate local water supplies, harm workers, and is of concern if applied to live sheep. Environmentally preferable textiles contain only a strictly limited amount of pesticide residues in the raw materials.
Issues such as emissions to air and water, as well as biodegradability, are also of concern. Pollutants and toxins such as N2O, zinc, copper, chlorine compounds, sulphur, acrylonitrile and other substances can pose a risk to air and water quality, so there are careful restrictions placed on these.
Any wood fibres or wood-sourced materials must be harvested sustainably. Wood fibres are processed and used to create man-made cellulose fibres (eg viscose). Illegal harvesting practices can threaten ecosystem health and local communities, so all wood and fibre must not come from uncertified sources.
Did you know that formaldehyde and heavy metals such as arsenic can be present in your clothes? These can present a health risk to humans, especially to infants and children. Hazardous materials are restricted or, in some cases (such as where a substance is a known carcinogen) may be banned outright.
Clothing dyes have been in the media recently, with mass recalls of jeans containing dyes linked to cancer. Some dyes (such as azo dyes) and dye byproducts have been classified as skin sensitisers, carcinogenic, mutagenic or reproductive toxins. While some dyes may not be linked to cancer themselves, they can break down into more harmful byproducts during use. GECA’s standard places limits, restrictions and bans on certain dyes.
Textiles should be ethically made, too. With the increased awareness surrounding the poor working conditions of many textile workers, more people are demanding to know where their textiles originated. GECA certified textile manufacturers must show awareness and/or compliance with International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions for no forced labour or exploitation, and manufacturers need to ensure their employees have safe working conditions, fair pay and equal opportunities.